Mountain Rescue Magazine Winter 2021

Expedition. George Ritchie encouraged him that he was likely to be more successful with Tiki and Rangi. So, on his return, Hamish set about devising a structured method for training his dogs. His technique began with simple retrieval skills, always shouting ‘Search!’ as the command for the dog to retrieve. He varied the direction of throw and, in time, increased both the search area and difficulty of the terrain. He also used different objects and always threw them out of the dog’s sight. Hamish’s ideas about the usefulness of a search and rescue dog team were picked up by a number of influential and interested people. In October 1963, two people paid him a visit: a mountain rescue expert from Norway and Jack Arthur, who was chairman of the Scottish branch of the British Red Cross. They watched Hamish’s dogs in action and the Norwegian visitor asked Hamish what ‘grade’ were his dogs. Somewhat taken aback, Hamish admitted he hadn’t understood the question. The visitor said he was referring to the gradings given to dogs that had undertaken training for avalanche rescue work. Hamish didn’t know things were so well-established abroad and wondered if he could become involved in some way. Taken with Hamish’s enthusiasm and commitment, Arthur secured funding from the British Red Cross for Hamish to attend an avalanche dog training course at Thrubsee, in Switzerland, later that year. Funding also came from the cigarette manufacturer Player’s, as well as the Swiss Rescue Service. Hamish was the first British person to attend such a course and, although he couldn’t take his own dogs, he joined people from a number of other European countries, working in a variety of training situations. The group included police officers, ski instructors, mountain guides, hotel workers, bar staff and others from a wide variety of occupational backgrounds, all volunteers who shared a common interest in helping save people caught in avalanches. The emphasis was on using dogs to find people buried under the snow. ‘Victims’ were buried at varying depths and then required to wait for the dog to find them. Hamish was surprised how quickly dogs found buried people, even when the dog had no prior training, and when the search area was extended to several hundred square metres. In many cases, the dog went straight to the victim’s location without undertaking a broad search to begin with. Little did he know that many of the search and rescue ideas used by the Swiss had been borrowed from the British, who had used dogs to locate people buried in bombed-out buildings during World War Two. It became clear to him that training a dog is as much about training the handler, who had to be fully conversant with the nature of snow and avalanche formation, weather conditions and general rescue procedures, as well as understanding the conditions under which a dog can be used most effectively. The handler should always have

Opposite page: The first course in Glencoe. From left to right, Kenny Mackenzie with Fran, Sandy Seabrook with Rory, Willie Elliot with Corrie and Catherine MacInnes with Rangi and Tiki © Hamish MacInnes. Above : Catherine and Hamish MacInnes with Rangi © Sandy Seabrook.

confidence in their dog’s ability to pick up a scent, even if their own hunches differ. Hamish was also introduced to the importance of assessment and the classification system used to grade dogs at different levels of expertise. He continued to train his dogs in difficult and challenging mountain terrain. Others learned of his efforts and came to visit. One of these was Sandy Seabrook. Sandy was an army sergeant stationed on Dartmoor. He had already established the Devon CRO with a friend (and was later to establish the Lomond MRT). Early in 1964, he and his friend had driven to Glencoe for a weekend’s climbing. They decided to camp on the hills and, during the first night out, Sandy’s dog Judy, an Alsatian, went missing. The two men searched for two days to no avail, eventually returning to barracks without the dog. Before their departure, they told local shepherds and the police about the dog but, after two weeks without news, they gave up hope. Then Sandy received a phone call from Hamish. He and a party had been camping in the same area as Sandy two weeks earlier and, as they huddled around a campfire, they heard a ‘ghostly howl’. It was Sandy’s dog, looking somewhat sorry for itself having not eaten for almost two weeks. Overjoyed, Sandy drove up to Glencoe to collect his dog and it was at this meeting that Sandy raised the idea of a training course using dogs for rescue work. Later that year, Kenny Mackenzie watched Hamish training Rangi and Tiki. Fascinated by the way they worked together, he wondered if his own dog Fran, also an Alsatian, could be trained. Hamish was sure the dog could be trained, as long as it was done in the right manner — with patience, know-how and affection.

Walter and Willie Elliot, who were shepherds living further down the glen, questioned whether their two Border Collies might become good search and rescue dogs. The Elliot brothers and their father were not unaccustomed to rescue work in Glencoe, having been involved in searching and rescuing climbers and walkers for many years. Hamish thought the collies might be trainable but was concerned about their long coats, which would ‘ball up’ quickly as they ran through snow. Unlike Alsatians, which have thick, short-haired coats, the balling- up problem with collies would not only impede their progress but also reduce body temperature. However, he felt collies would be fine in conditions when the weather was more favourable and the ground not covered in snow. Hamish became more and more certain the time was right to bring together the growing interests of the many people who were training their dogs for search and rescue, and formalise all he had learned. He decided to run a pilot course in Glencoe. Set for 14 December 1964, the course ran for five days. Only a small number were involved, including Catherine MacInnes, Walter Elliot, Kenny Mackenzie and Sandy Seabrook (the only person from outside Scotland) and, at the subsequent formal course a year later, he and his dog Rory became the first ever team in England to qualify with SARDA. In May 1965, Hamish called a meeting at his house and, by the meeting’s end, they had agreed to set up a dedicated organisation, its aims to further the development of search and rescue dogs in Britain, and to raise funds to help pay for the cost of training and rescue work. The Search and Rescue Dog Association had finally come into being. ✪




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